Texoma Medical Center unveiled its new Neuro-Intervention suite on Tuesday, the centerpiece of which is a high-powered medical imaging machine capable of producing detailed images of blood vessels in the head.

The $3.5-million facility is built around the room-sized angiography imaging system and procedure table, which features two rotating, movable X-ray cameras that penetrate skin, muscle and bone to display a 3-D rendering of blood vessels on a large television screen. Contrast fluid injected into the vessels then appears on the display panel, allowing doctors and surgeons to identify blockages and then safely maneuver equipment through the delicate structures to eliminate obstructions.

“It’s very exciting to have this at this hospital,” TMC Interventional Neurologist Vivek Tank said of the facility and photographic machine. “The advantage of this is that it’s much quicker, it’s less invasive for the patient and there’s less risk of bleeding and infection”

The neurologist said the facility will be used to identify and treat a variety of conditions but the most important among them are strokes, which occur when blood vessels providing oxygen to the brain are blocked due to the build up of cholesterol on vessel walls. Tank said having on-site access to the intervention equipment will save precious time and greatly improve the the long-term outcomes for patients should they experience a stroke.

“Prior to having this room, we had to ship the patients down to the other hospitals by helicopter, delaying treatment times by at least an hour, I would say even closer to an hour and a half,” Tanks said. “That’s extra time where the brain is starved of oxygen. Now that we have the machine here locally, we can treat the patients much faster.”

Tank explained that TMC’s Neuro-Intervention facility was a project two years in the making and involved intensive research. He said hospital staff traveled all over the country to observe and vet different imaging machines made by General Electric and Siemens, before finally choosing to purchase from the latter vendor. But buying the machine was only part of the process, as it then had to be constructed, transported overseas and carefully assembled.

“The actual machine itself took about three months to be built in Germany and then it was shipped over to the U.S.,” Tank said. “And the actual installation of the machine itself took about two weeks. And the construction of the room took probably three months.”

Although the facility’s first two patients — treated Tuesday — were fortunate to avoid a stroke diagnosis, Tank said TMC is likely to treat many strokes in its Neuro-Intervention center because Texas is known throughout the medical community to have a high rate of the emergency medical conditions.

“There’s something called the ‘Stroke Belt,’ which runs through the southern half of the United States, including Texas,” Tank said. “It has a lot to do with the diet — a lot of barbecue and other greasy, fatty foods that people eat around here, which are not healthy for the blood vessels.”

Tank said diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and sedentary lifestyles all increase a person’s likelihood of suffering a stroke and while anybody can experience one, elderly individuals are most at risk. The neurologist said the signs of a stroke include a drooping of the face, weakness in the extremities and slurred speech. He encouraged family members and caregivers to get a potential stroke victim to a hospital as soon as possible .

With the facility open and operational, Tank said TMC expects to see an average of two to three stroke patients each month, but expects that number to climb significantly as the hospital chain gets the word out to other area health care providers and first responders.

“We are working on initiatives with the local EMS and helicopter companies to fly patients here now that they know and they will know that the interventional capabilities are here at Texoma Medical Center,” Tank said.